At the start of every New Year, I like to talk to my clients about setting goals for that year and how best to achieve them. One of the first things I try to tackle with clients to help reach their goals is to break any bad habits that might be holding them back. I’ve come up with a few ways that will enable them to do that and I’d like to share them with you – just in case you’ve got any bad habits hanging around you’d like to get rid of.
Replace a Bad Habit with a Good One and Reach Your Goals
You may not be aware of this, but bad habits are often created by stress and just plain boredom. Yet, they can really sabotage the function of your life and prevent you from reaching your goals, as well as wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. They cause you to waste time and/or to do things that, ultimately, will make you unhealthy. That’s why it’s so important to identify and remedy any bad habits you may have as preliminary “work” before you start the real work of moving toward your goals.
But, I know, you’ve tried several times to get rid of your bad habits and you still have them. You’ve pretty much given up on trying. The truth is, though, it will take you much longer to reach your goals, if at all, until you’ve dealt with those bad habits. That’s because, as I said earlier, most habits are also huge time wasters. That’s not to say that bad habits don’t serve any purpose – as they most always address a need that you have at the moment you created them.
For example, if you’ve got a lot of anxiety about something in your life, biting your nails, smoking, binging on junk food, going on a buying spree, likely helped you cope with the anxiety. This is especially true if you feel that you can’t directly solve the real, underlying problem that’s causing the turmoil that’s driving the bad habit. The bad habit acts as a pressure-release valve. But not for long. Bad habits have a way of snowballing into bigger and worse problems that become harder to deal with. So, you’ll have to find a way to solve the real underlying problem soon before it does even more damage in your life.
Yet, a way to allow yourself to at least become more productive and moving towards positive goals is to substitute bad habits with “better” habits. Here’s what I mean:
1. Replace behaviors. Instead of smoking, or maxing out your credit cards, overeating, gambling, to deal with stress and anxiety-provoking situations, think of a more productive “habit” like exercise, cleaning your house, getting out and going somewhere different, reading a book, calling a friend, get a new, fun hobby.
2. Get rid of triggers. If certain situations trigger acting on your bad habits, avoid the triggers. If you can’t avoid the trigger, than avoid the things that constitute your habit. For example, get all the junk food out of your house. You’ll either be forced to get in the car and drive somewhere to get some, or you’ll substitute it with one of your better habits.
3. Enlist help. Trying to kick bad habits can be difficult on your own. That’s why friends, spouses, kids, support buddies can be so helpful. When things get edgy, call one and talk, or go spend a few hours with them if possible. Having someone to be accountable to helps.
4. Deal with it. As I said earlier, ultimately, you’ll have to address those underlying issues that are causing you to run for bad habits. If it’s stress-related, get help dealing with the problem that’s causing it if you feel you can’t do it alone. If its boredom related, occupy your time with some positive activities – volunteer, spend more time with your kids, take up a hobby, get a part time job, attend lectures, join a book club, there’s a zillion things you can do.
5. Give yourself time. It takes time to replace bad habits with better ones. It often doesn’t happen overnight. Keep a rewards journal and record every time you replace your bad habit with your better one. At the end of each week, or month, give yourself a special treat for having made such great progress.
Breaking bad habits are hard – especially if you’ve let them stay around a long time. You may even have started to rationalize, well, this is just who I am now, this person who eats too much, gambles, smokes, wastes time and doesn’t meet any goals, etc. Take a few moments to remember back to who you were before you created the bad habit. What was your life like before whatever situation arose that caused you to create the bad habit? Honestly looking at what’s the real, underlying cause of your bad habits, and ways to fix those issues, can help you get rid, once and for all, of bad habits that are holding you back. Best of luck to you, I know it’s difficult.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach